I was educated in the US school system since third grade. Back in the day when I moved to the US, to my knowledge, there was no Japanese school available. On Saturdays, the embassy rented out a couple of classrooms from a private school in the area to hold Hoshuukou, or Saturday school offering the regular Japanese school curriculum to expat students. So my regular week was a six-day week, the first five in a regular public school and Saturday was devoted to my Japanese studies. This was in a time before sushi was a popular food, kids still believed that, in Japan, we all wore kimonos and Japanese people can all do Karate and are Ninjas. I’m not exaggerating, kids used to ask me this shit all the time. My bento box was looked down upon as “weird stinky food.” When my gym teacher realized I didn’t understand the rules for American football (and I still don’t), she sent over the other Asian girl to me to translate for me. She was Chinese, I think. I still remember the shame I felt, as I stood in the corner and this girl shyly came over to me as the whole class watched. She tried to explain the American football rules in English. The teacher ushered her saying, “No no, in Chinese…she doesn’t speak English.” She tried to explain I didn’t know Chinese either, but she was told, “Well, it’s similar isn’t it?” She shrugged her shoulders, knowing that she wasn’t going to convince them otherwise, and tried her best to communicate with me.
People weren’t bad, many of the kids were really nice, they tried to include me in their games. After figuring out that I did not have a basic understanding of English, the school took the initiative and moved me to the ESL (English Speaking and Learning) class. For half the day, I sat there with a coloring paper the teacher gave me and only participated in math class. We non-native speakers spent the other half of the day in a different classroom where we “learned” English. In reality, I spent about three years spelling out the days of the week. Being Japanese, my pronunciation of “Th” was not perfect and the teachers decided that I was not fit to return to regular classes. So you can say, I lost a good amount of primary school education.
It also meant that I didn’t have the chance to study the basics of English grammar. It took me several years to develop enough English from regular classes to finally be able to speak, and eventually write. Neither really happened until my mother, realizing I was getting nowhere in the public school ESL class, moved me to an academic private school where the teachers made a significant effort to make sure I could keep up with the rest of the class.
Articles and tense agreement have remained a challenge for me since Japanese does not have either. I’ve also come to realize that most educated people are pretty iffy on articles. If I was to choose 10 equally well-educated people to proofread, I would get several different opinions on my use of articles. That’s just amongst Americans, add in some British and Australians and I’m sure I would get totally different comments from everyone in the room.
**Marc says I need a semi-colon or a period after “Americans”, and he’s calling it a gut feeling. Case and point**
Apparently though, I’ve left my articles in the US. Since moving to Singapore, I’ve noticed I’m losing my articles. Chinese, like Japanese, does not have the concept of articles and even English speakers here tend to drop them. I have to be very careful when I write because Marc looks at me and goes “What’s missing here?” and I would sheepishly have to admit, “the”. I’ve noticed Nina’s English lacks many articles as she’s learning how to speak in Singapore. Now, how do you insert articles back into your life? This is going to be a long battle….
** The articles in color are the ones I was originally missing that Marc added in for me**
I plan on writing about this topic in Japanese separately in a bit.